The fact that Terrorism has no fixed meaning does not mean it is inconsequential. The opposite is true. Terrorism is one of the most consequential words in our political lexicon. The term designates Supreme, Unmitigated Evil. Once someone is successfully branded a Terrorist, it means that anything and everything can and should be done to them without constraints (e.g., sure, I don’t love the idea that the President — in secret and with no due process – can target my fellow citizens for assassination, but I support its being done to Anwar Awlaki because he’s a Terrorist; I don’t like detention without trial but I can live with it as it’s being used to imprison Terrorists; it’s terrible when we slaughter children with drones but it has to be done to get the Terrorists, etc. etc.).
As I’ve said before, Terrorism is simultaneously the term that means nothing and justifies everything. That’s why such strong emotions are evoked when it is used in a way that deviates from mandated orthodoxies. It’s a meaningless term, but incredibly (perhaps incomparably) significant in governing how power and violence can be wielded and against whom.”